Bangladesh Goods Transport Owners Workers United Association yesterday announced that truck owners and workers would abstain from work across the country from 6:00am today to press home their seven-point demand, including bringing changes to the Road Transport Act-2018.
Leaders of the platform, which represents around 80,000 owners and workers, said they would not transport any goods, including life-saving medicine and food, until their demands were met.
“The death penalty for truck drivers is an illogical punishment as they provide services to the nation by transporting goods. If the government does not take an initiative to amend the law, we will continue abstaining from work,” said Mukbul Ahmad, convener of the association, at a rally in the city's Tejgaon Truck Stand.
He said although they organised the rally only for Dhaka division, all truck owners and workers associations from across the country expressed their solidarity with them.
According to Ahmad, at least 32,000 trucks transport goods, including food and export and import products, across the country every day.
Parliament on September 19 passed the much-anticipated Road Transport Act-2018 amid criticism over lenient punishments for deaths caused by reckless driving.
According to the new law, if anybody causes an accident by reckless and negligent driving, and kills or injures someone seriously, he would face a maximum five years' imprisonment or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both.
However, if it is found that a driver has deliberately killed anyone or not averted a killing in a road accident, the incident will fall under either section 302 (murder) or 304 (culpable homicide) of the Penal Code, the law minister earlier said explaining the act.
The maximum punishment under section 302 of the Penal Code is the death penalty while it is life imprisonment under section 304.
Speaking at the rally, the association president said they would not accept the death penalty as drivers don't drive trucks to kill people.
“We are directly contributing significantly to accelerate the country's economy by providing services to the manufacturing sector. So why will we be considered as murderers?”
Tajul Islam, member secretary of the association, urged the truck owners and workers not to transport any goods until their demands were met.
He said if they did not drive vehicles, the export of readymade garments would be hampered; the government would subsequently be under pressure and be compelled to meet their demands. “Nobody will drive trucks without our permission.”
Their other demands include unconditional release of driver Hasmot Ali, member of Tangail Truck Owners Association, and all staffers arrested in connection with road accident cases; issuing heavy vehicle driving licence to all drivers of heavy vehicles and allowing them to drive trucks with light vehicle driving licence until they are given heavy vehicle driving licence; stopping police harassment; setting up truck terminals and stands at suitable spots with sufficient facilities; returning driving licences to drivers without imposing a fine; and stopping overloading of trucks.
Hundreds of truck owners and workers joined the rally, also addressed by leaders from different districts.
Talking to The Daily Star, Sk Shamsul Alam Bulbul, general secretary of Karwanbazar Kachamal Paikari Arat Malik Samity, yesterday said farmers would have to sell their produce at low prices if the truck drivers go for an indefinite strike.
The consumers would be most affected if the prices of vegetables, fish and other perishable products shot up, he said, adding that the traders would be hit financially.
He hoped the authorities would take necessary action to avoid any negative consequences of a possible strike.
SAME DEMANDS FROM ANOTHER RALLY
Addressing another rally in the city, leaders of transport owners and workers yesterday threatened to go for a tougher movement unless the government would bring changes in Road Transport Act-2018, including making all the offences bailable.
The meeting was organised on the Phulbaria BRTC Bus Depot premises, with Sadiqur Rahman Hiru, president of Mohakhali Bus Terminal Workers' Union, in the chair.
“We will have to take a tough stance if the government doesn't bring changes in sections 84, 98, and 105 of the law in the next session of parliament,” said Abul Kalam, president of Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association.
He said transport owners would announce layoffs as the transport sector had already been declared as an industry and the workers would go on a strike.
All three sections of the law deal with non-bailable offences.
Kalam alleged that the government didn't discuss with them some provisions of the law before its passage by parliament.
Abdur Rahim Box Dudu, senior vice president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation, said they have already submitted a memorandum to the prime minister demanding changes in the law.
“We will go for a tougher movement if our demands are not met.”
Osman Ali, general secretary of the federation, said they might go for a strike and a decision in this regard would be taken on October 12.